From the Director

Rex

 

 

 

by Rex Parker, PhD director@princetonastronomy.org

Skynet Update – Remote Imaging for Members
AAAP is sponsoring member access to remote astro-imaging through UNC-Chapel Hill’s Skynet robotic telescope network. The telescopes are located all over the world, typically are 16” imaging scopes of Ritchey Chretien pedigree with high quality large format CCD cameras. To date we have provided accounts for 21 AAAP members, and so far 6 have begun making observations using the system. If you’re interested but not yet involved, send me an e-mail note to get set up. Details are explained in the June issue of AAAP’s Sidereal Times. Also see the Skynet web site, https://skynet.unc.edu/skynet

Proxima Centauri Photographed Using Skynet
The southern sky brims with amazing celestial sights if only we have the opportunity to see it – and this is one of the very cool things about joining Skynet. Even more, you can explore these distant realms from the comfort of home with your PC!

Recently our nearest neighbor the south sky star Proxima Centauri was in the news for the very significant discovery of an earth-like exoplanet orbiting it. This is part of a major ongoing effort to identify exoplanets around the nearest stars. With a declination of 62 degrees it’s not visible from our latitude, and it’s also very faint at magnitude 11, so Proxima Centauri is seldom seen by amateur astronomers and few images are on the internet. It’s story goes back to the 1915 discovery in South Africa of a star with the same proper motion and parallax as the closest star at the time, Alpha Centauri (itself a binary pair, A and B) also known as Rigel Kentaurus about 4.4 light years distant. The new star Proxima (also called Alpha Centauri C) proved to be a loosely bound companion orbiting at a large distance, ~0.2 light years (~10,000 times the earth-sun distance). It is a low mass dim red dwarf, the lowest luminosity star ever measured when discovered, though slightly closer to earth than Alpha A and B, about 4.2 light years. In 2016 the European Southern Observatory announced the discovery of an earth-like exoplanet “Proxima b” orbiting the star at a distance of only ~0.05 AU (~1/20 the earth-sun distance) with orbital period ~11 earth days and mass ~1.3 earth mass. Current evidence suggests that such a planet around a red dwarf star is unusual.

What would this close but dim southern red dwarf look like? Using Skynet from my home office in New Jersey I queued up a request for imaging time on the PROMPT 5 telescope, a 16” RC f/11.2 scope located at CTIO at 9000 ft elevation in the Chilean Andes, 30 degrees south latitude. Within 24 hours the job was completed and my data was ready for downloading from my observation list. The image below was created from 4×15 sec exposures each with red, green, blue, and luminance filters. Proxima Centauri is the reddish star to the left of center in the image below. It looks brighter than most of the other stars in the field because the others are more distant. How to know which is the target among a field of hundreds of stars? I used the Image Link astrometric program in TheSkyX software to precisely confirm which was Proxima Centauri. But it’s up to the imagination to visualize the earth-like planet in this picture.

The red dwarf Proxima Centauri and surrounding star field. Width of field ~28 arc-min, about the size of the full moon. Alpha Centauri is out of the field ~2 degrees away. Image by RAParker using Skynet/PROMPT5.

The red dwarf Proxima Centauri and surrounding star field. Width of field ~28 arc-min, about the size of the full moon. Alpha Centauri is out of the field ~2 degrees away. Image by RAParker using Skynet/PROMPT5.

Announcements

First Light with the Ultrastar-C: Electronic Assisted Astronomy for Outreach
Recently outreach co-chair Gene Allen proposed that the club acquire new technology to help improve the quality of what can be shown to others in outreach. Advances in CCDs and software is making live-view imaging more feasible than ever. We’re considering a fast-download-rate CCD camera with real time stacking software linked to a portable telescope, and also linked to one of the telescopes at the observatory. I was fortunate to acquire on Astromart a leading current example of this type of camera, the Starlight Xpress Ultrastar-Colour. This camera has the excellent Sony ICX825AL color sensor which is larger and therefore has a wider field of view than many previous fast cameras.

Member Tim Donney joined me recently to test the Ultrastar-C with Starlight Live stacking software at the Observatory. We got it working with the Mewlon-250, which is really more focal length than ideal but allowed a decent test. The pics below have no processing at all, they are merely ~8 sec images with stacking/mean using Starlight Live software, and they represent what we saw on the screen live. Keep in mind this is with full moon coming up. It will be interesting to test with a smaller/wider field telescope as Gene proposed. It’s noteworthy that the power requirement of the Ultrastar allows running from laptop USB port so it’s simple to set up in the field and AC adapter not required for laptop in many cases, a big difference from our version of the Mallincam.

Jersey StarQuest (Sept 22-23). Once again we’ll be hosting Jersey Starquest astronomy weekend at the Hope Conference and Renewal Center in north Jersey http://camphope.org/. This is an observing-oriented event for both Friday and Saturday nights at one of the best relatively dark sky locations in the state. The Hope Center is located just north of I-80 a few miles north of Jenny Jump forest, and offers clean bunkhouse accommodations or camping on-site and a kitchen for cooking if desired. Restaurants are within a few minutes’ drive. If you’re experienced or just beginning, a new member or veteran, even if you don’t own a telescope, here’s your chance to learn hands-on about astronomy and observing.
o Walk-in registration, no advance payment or pre-registration needed. You can decide to attend at the last minute. We will ask that you send in a non-binding intent-to-participate form to help estimate needs for Hope Center.
o AAAP member-oriented event, a chance to make friends in the club. You’re also welcome to invite family and friends who may not yet be members.
o Low costs. The club subsidizes the costs, we do not make money on the event but the more people attend the better the economic outcome for the club.
o No meals will be provided by the club. You should bring your own food and plates etc. The Center’s well equipped kitchen will be available, and we may self-organize for carry-out food from local establishments. Hot and cold drinks will be provided.

RiP George Walker. Long-time AAAP member George Walker has passed away, succumbing swiftly after a medical event. Throughout the 1990’s George was an observer and active member of the club.

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From the Assistant Director

by Larry Kane, Assistant Director

As some of you may know, the last five months have been, health-wise, somewhat tough going for me. While I am confident that I can carry out existing and future projects for the AAAP, I have had to curtail other commitments. The primary of these was my position as a trustee of the Washington Crossing Park Association. As a trustee, I was able to be a part of the decision making that effected the park and collaterally, the AAAP. I took on this responsibility because I thought it important to help form and develop this intrinsically important connection between the AAAP and a sister organization that works primarily for the maintenance of the park in which our observatory has been located for almost fifty years. The relationship between these two organizations is, at the moment, very solid and this status must not be allowed to weaken.

So I am asking one or two members to step up and volunteer to help solidify our three year long relationship with this vital organization. If you contact me at assist.director@princetonastronomy.org, I can set you up.

If you have some great airline mileage, or if money is no object and you really want to see the 2017 Total Eclipse of the Sun, you are in luck. I still have reservations for two rooms in Oregon, something that, by this time, no money can buy. You still have an opportunity to be a part of the 2017 AAAP Solar Expedition. We will be viewing this colossal event on land made available to us by a friendly farmer. After eclipse celebrations will be held at the same location. So if interested, contact me as soon as you read this article. You can email me at the address listed above, or call me at 609-273-1456.

By the way, if there is some area of astronomy that you think the AAAP should be getting into, please feel free to let me or another member of the board know. Our organization can only grow if we have the continuing input of new ideas from our membership.

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Astrophotography Workshop


The Adirondack Public Observatory is offering a four day workshop in astrophotography this fall from October 19 to October 22 in Tupper Lake, New York. The skies at their observatory are 6.5 magnitude. Three experienced astrophotographers will be taking classes for beginners, intermediate and advanced participants.

Participants can bring their own equipment or use the observatory’s equipment. Cost is $120.00 per person. For more information or questions please call them at (518)359-3538 or visit their website at www.adirondackpublicobservatory.org

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Ted Frimet’s second attempt at remote astrophotography

(We won’t talk about his first attempt!)
Observation of Albireo was made with three exposures for Red, Green, and Blue Colorized and composited in Gimp for Mac OS X – adjusted curves and thresholds.

Telescope Prompt8 Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory thru Skynet Robotic Telescope Network. Time taken: July 27, 2017 03:00:53 thru 03:02:48 0.5 seconds exposure each filter.

Good start Ted!

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Telescope Time Machine

extrude, slice and dice – best served defocused


by Ted Frimet

Almost every amateur observer wants to get the biggest bang for their buck. This is especially true when they sit down for a spell, to look at the wonders of the universe. Quite a few of us want to get a better view. Telescopes, with all their power, have their own inherent limitations; however, some limits can be overcome. Other destructive imperfections, can only be met passively, and accepted with muted understanding.

Computer-generated image of an Airy disk. Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airy_disk

Computer-generated image of an Airy disk. Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airy_disk

Collimation, one hopes, is the easiest fix after testing one’s telescope. The observer knows with confidence that their prowess at the terminal business end of the eye piece is enhanced with star testing. The Airy Disk knows all, and tells all. I am occasionally confronted by the seasoned observer giving indications that their scope is fully collimated. I am told, by said respected peers, that in all their observational circumstances, they never need to collimate. It gives me pause to reflect that the psychology of denial is prevalent in almost every human endeavor. Fortunately, I have not done a whole lot in my life, and with limited access in scope of experience, my hope for humanity is that the former statement is not found to be a universal truth. So my mantra becomes my appeal for the sake of all sentient life. I say, “collimate” your telescope, whenever it is convenient.

This, though, is not that story. If you are seeking the with and without of collimation, there are, and have been, very well written, and dare I say, “concise” instructions on how to go about your business. This tome, is in response to a thought experiment, timeless reading, and a parents question, during public night. The thought will be exposed below, the reading will have citation, and the parent – who asked simply, “How can I keep my child’s interest in astronomy?” – was met with, “use the telescope as a tool to complement your child’s learning, and their education”.

Neal deGrasse Tyson notes in a lecture licensed by The Great Courses, something that we are all too familiar with. If you could travel faster and faster, approaching the speed of light, your time slows down. He also speaks to the point that the light that we perceive, from distant stars, take a very long time to reach our eyes. Star light travels at light speed. For photons, time has no meaning. That is, if you ‘could’ travel at the speed of light, time would stop for you. But of course, this will probably never happen, as it would violate Special Relativity. However, it is still interesting to note that time has no meaning for a massless photon. The moment it is created, it appears at its destination. Yet, you, the observer, might be observing that very same photon millions, or maybe even billions of years after its instantiation.

I had a dream, a few nights after my first draft of this essay. A slice of a squashed faced astronomer was stuck in an oval cutout. It was if he were pushing his entire face and a partial hand against a window. And I was on “our side” looking at him. Akin to “Alice Thru The Looking Glass”, I was seeing the observer at their eye-piece. Their light was pushing out of their eyepiece, and thru their telescope tube, and into the void. It was the only explanation my less than conscious brain could offer while waking from a dream. You think you see old light. I see you as you were, or are, or will be. Keep in mind, that the light you emanate travels instantaneously to another observer…that is if the observer were massless, or perhaps made of neutrinos. A massless being is not time constrained. Their time simply pays no part in the image you emanate. That is, the massless observer sees your light, instantaneously.

Point your telescope at a star, and rack your focusser, until you get the airy disk. Note the diffraction circles. Each circle is light from your distant star. Your actions focus each solitary circle into a starry point of light. And if done well, we are very happy observers.

The airy disk light rings are the cumulation of the lights three dimensional wave package. You see, almost every illustration I’ve seen shows light as a 2D drawing appearing on a cartesian plane. And it’s an incomplete view of reality. Even in Harold Richard Suiter’s manual, “Star Testing Astronomical Telescopes”, c1994, p58 fig 4.1 shows part of a wave. And then Suiter asks the reader to “try to point out the location of the light wave”. It isn’t that the question is fundamentally flawed, it is that the visual aide is incomplete. One might argue the imposed limitations of graphic art in book production. If the light wave were graphically presented as a three dimensional wave, you might be casting a different light on the subject matter and answering Suiter’s question, forthwith.

Below is my attempt, thru GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP ) to show a three dimensional wave. It ain’t pretty- looks more like pasta. What is missing in my model, is that along the length of my pasta, there should be undulations of small and large diameters.


Forget the pasta, and bring in the play dough. Work the play-dough out of an circular extrusion. Along the dough’s length, squish it with your hands, allowing your fingers to make indentations. If you were to cut thru the dough, at say, even intervals, you would have many circles in varying diameters.

Slice the light cone of special relativity and create many circles. They vary in size from small to large – and large to small, too! Except my cone is a wave, it is three dimensional, and has undulations in diameter, throughout.

More than a few years ago, I had the benefit of speaking with, briefly, a man named Charles. Charles was the son of my soon to be mother-in-law’s neighbor, Betty. Nice people. Charles, as a Bell Labs Engineer told me about how I needed to change my perspective on radio frequencies appearing to me as a 2D wave plotted on a x-y chart. And to start thinking of these waves as being in three dimensional space. Many years passed, and now I am reading Harold Suiter. Within the very first couple of chapters, Suiter makes the comparison of light to audio waves. And rightly so – as it no doubt it assists the reader in making the jump from a technological understanding of one established science to the next. So, you might infer from this, that Suiter has encouraged me to make the jump from radio waves to light waves. But after all, we really have not, since radio frequencies are just another component of the electro magnetic spectrum, shared of course, by its cousin, visible light. Star light is a three dimensional wave front.
So, to answer Mr. Suiters question, to point out the where the light is on the light wave, we answer, gingerly – it is on the incoming light wave’s outer circumference of the conic section.

Since photons instantly reach their destination, at no time at all, the airy disk is the result of the wavefront crashing, and smooshing down onto your observers lens. It is as if light’s arrow was thrust in your direction, down your tube, and splattered onto your lens, leaving behind in every instant of your observation, ring, after ring, after ring.

The observed radii of the airy disk increases with the telescope aperture. Not only do you have access to more photons, with a larger aperture, you have access to older light. But you already knew that. You see farther into the time based dimension of the universe and always look at old photons.

But here is the conundrum. You are now in my deep end of the pool. That out of focus light that you see isn’t old light. It is the result of the instantaneous impact of quanta produced, far, far away- for time has no meaning to the traveling array of quanta that makes up the airy disk.

Rack your focus in, and see light as it was. Rack your focus out, and see light as it will be. Did I cross the line? Maybe you could too, if you were slightly out of focus, like me.

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Dark Matter

by Prasad Ganti

Just when we thought that things are falling into place and that we know enough about the Universe, came the revelation that the Universe is dominated by dark matter and dark energy; which between them account for 96% of whatever is present in the Universe. It is only the 4% of constituents which are under our cross hairs and get termed as “spectacular discoveries”. Although the effects of the 96% constituents has been studied and understood well, its nature is not known.

Dark matter is said to constitute 23% of the Universe. It is not a recent discovery. First thought of during the 1930s by the Swiss Physicist Fritz Zwicky at Caltech. He found that dark matter has influence at Galactic levels, not at the level of stars or their planets. He discovered that the outer reaches of Galaxies rotate at the same speed as the inner ones, unlike in our Solar system where the planet Mercury, the planet closest to Sun, travels a lot faster than the distant Neptune. This led to the speculation that there is some dark unknown matter on the fringes of the galaxies which makes this happen. Not visible to any telescope or any detector mankind has ever devised.

Decades later, the American astronomer Vera Rubin did studies on spiral galaxies and came to the same conclusion as Zwicky did. Firstly that the galaxies rotate around their centers. Secondly, the outer reaches of the galaxies rotate much faster than what the theory of gravitation predicts. Subsequent discoveries like Cosmic Background Microwave Radiation and Gravitational Lensing supported the dark matter theory. Zwicky and Rubin could not be ignored anymore.

The matter, that we know of, which we, the Earth and our Solar system are made up of, is now known as Baryonic matter. It consists of the electrons, protons, neutrons etc. What does the dark matter consists of. There are two theories, neither of them have been proved. The first theory is that there are particles other than known ones like protons, called WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) from which the dark matter could be made of. Labeled Axions, Neutralinos, these are postulated to be much heavier than protons, but do not get influenced by electromagnetic radiation like light or X-rays. But they are subject to the forces of gravity.

Second theory specifies the existence of MACHO (Massive Astrophysical Compact Halo Objects). They are made of regular Baryonic matter that does not emit any kind of radiation but drifts through interstellar space, not affiliated with any solar system. I read an article in a recent issue of Scientific American that these could be primordial black holes. Meaning that the black holes formed during the early life of our Universe.

There are detectors for WIMPs. One example being the CDMS (Cold Dark Matter Search) in Soudan mines in Minnesota. Neither a WIMP nor any MACHO have been discovered to date. There is no room for pessimism though. It took a while to detect neutrinos, the Higgs Boson, and the Gravity waves. All of them were predicted by theory and much later confirmed experimentally.

Nature seems to be a moving target. Just as we think we get getting to know most of the things, the more ignorant we find ourselves to be. The quest to know is a journey and not a destination. Maybe some day, we will know the mystery of the dark matter. And then, some other unknown pops up.

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The Great Red Spot Spotted!!

by Kevin Mooney

After the little kiddies go home on a public night, there’s always one object you would like to go back to view again later in the evening. That moment came on Friday June 9th when Team 2 spotted the “Great Red Spot” on Jupiter, which was perfectly-positioned front and center on the planet’s surface. That is to say it was front and center from our vantage point. In the telescope that evening, you’d have to look below the two most prominent gas bands to see the unmistakable, oval bulge that is the Red Spot, which is located slightly south of the planet’s equator. While there wasn’t any actual red, or any color for that matter that I could discern, the longer you stare, the more details you can flush out.

We had a lot of Boy Scouts that night and other interested members of the public. There was also a lot of competition for the Red Spot among astronomical objects within view on what turned out to maybe the best Friday night of the year so far. Some of the other objects we saw that night were globular clusters – M5 and M13. Since Ursa Major sits in an ideal part of the sky, we also took time to view M81 and M82 (Is M82 slightly brighter?). There was also some of my favorite doubles: Cor Caroli, Albireo, Mizar, and the Double-Double. By time we turned the telescope back to Jupiter it was after 10:30 p.m. and the Red Spot was gone! That’s partly my fault because I was complaining about how the Phillies lose every time I go to a game. But it was pointed out to me that they also lose when I don’t go to the games. So, I should have just got on with it.

So how fast does the Red Spot actually move across the surface and what are we actually looking at? Apparently, it takes almost a week (Earth week) for the Red Spot to completely rotate around the planet. Most of the club members I have spoken with say they typically get an “edge-on” view of the Red Spot. So we were fortunate to get the whole storm.

In a nutshell, The Red Shot is a gigantic storm that has been swirling across Jupiter for hundreds of years. We really don’t know how long it has been in motion. While it was first recorded in 1831, according to Space.com, it was probably first observed much sooner.

Think of it as a giant cyclone with wind forces of more than 400 mph stretching at about 12,400 miles (or 20,000 kilometers) long and about 7,500 miles (or 12,000 kilometers) wide. So doing the math, the Red Spot could swallow up three Earths. Or, at least, it used to be that size. The storm has been shrinking somewhat in recent years. Now it’s more like the size two Earths.

If you really want a good look at the true size and scope of the Great Red Spot as it appears today, take a look at the photos NASA’s June spacecraft snapped just a few weeks ago. Juno dropped in less than 6,000 miles from the Red Spot’s cloud tops, which is closer than any spacecraft has ever gotten. Astronomers who have closely examined the Red Spot over the years have gathered evidence that suggests it has been continuously feed by other storms, which would explain in part why it has persisted for so long. But how much longer will it go?

We could be witnessing the beginning of the end. Hubble Space Telescope images show the Red Spot has been shrinking at an accelerated pace in recent years. So, get a good look now! We did.

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Snippets

compiled by Arlene & David Kaplan

Planet KELT-9b

Planet KELT-9b

Planet is ‘hotter than most stars’
Scientists have found a hellish world where the “surface” of the planet is over 4,000C – almost as hot as our Sun. In part, that’s because KELT-9b’s host star is itself very hot, but also because this alien world resides so close to the furnace.
KELT-9b takes just two days to complete one orbit of the star…more

distribution of planet sizes - NYT

distribution of planet sizes- NYT

Earth-Size Planets Among Final Tally of NASA’s Kepler Telescope
Setting the stage for the next chapter in the quest to end cosmic loneliness, astronomers released a list on Monday of 4,034 objects they are 90 percent sure are planets orbiting other stars. The new list is the final and most reliable result of a four-year cosmic census of a tiny region of the Milky Way…more

A spectrograph of sun's plasma jets -NYT

A spectrograph of sun’s plasma jets -NYT

Solving the Scorching Mystery of the Sun’s Erupting Plasma Jets
Spiky bursts of plasma called spicules swirl around the surface of the sun. Millions erupt every moment, spurting solar material some 6,000 miles high at speeds of about 60 miles per second…more

-NYT

-NYT

Greetings, E.T. (Please Don’t Murder Us.)
A new initiative to beam messages into space may be our best shot yet at learning whether we’re alone in the universe. There’s just one problem: What if we’re not?…more

The Vertex Locator detector -CERN

The Vertex Locator detector -CERN

CERN Physicists Find a Particle With a Double Dose of Charm
Researchers reported on Thursday that in debris flying out from the collisions of protons at the CERN particle physics laboratory outside Geneva, they had spotted a particle that has long been predicted but not detected until now…more

Credit -Jason Major

Credit -Jason Major

Behold Jupiter’s Great Red Spot
An American space agency probe has returned the most detailed pictures ever of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. The Juno spacecraft passed over the giant storm on Monday as it continued with its series of close passes of the gaseous world…more

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) mirrors.

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) mirrors.

James Webb: Swallowing the biggest space telescope
The door has closed on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The successor to Hubble has been locked tight inside a giant chamber where it will undergo a series of tests to simulate conditions off Earth. Engineers must first pump out all the air, and then chill down the telescope to fantastically low temperatures…more

Noctilucent clouds -NatGeo

Noctilucent clouds -NatGeo

Eerie Clouds Glow at Night
In recent weeks, sky-watchers have been reporting nightly outbursts of eerie tendrils glowing in the twilight skies. The hypnotic displays signal the start of viewing season for noctilucent, or night-shining, clouds…more

The rocket carrying the Mayak satellite - Cosmo Mayak

The rocket carrying the Mayak satellite – Cosmo Mayak

Brightest ‘Star’ in the Sky May Soon Be This Russian Satellite
Soon, there may be a new human-made “star” gliding across the heavens that will be brighter than both the International Space Station and the planet Venus. Mayak, the Russian word for “beacon,” is a pyramid-shaped satellite that is the brainchild of a group of students…more

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